The U.S. government is intensifying its intelligence sharing and military consultations with Turkey behind the scenes as both countries confront the possibility that Syria’s civil conflict could escalate into a regional war, according to U.S. and NATO officials.
The Obama administration has said it wants to avoid getting drawn militarily into Syria and for months has resisted pressure from Arab allies and some Republicans to back Syria’s rebel groups more forcefully.
But as Syria’s internal conflict has increasingly spilled across its northern border into Turkey, the U.S. government has stepped up cooperation with its key NATO ally. In recent weeks, military officials from both countries have met to make contingency plans to impose no-fly zones over Syrian territory, U.S. officials said.
U.S. intelligence agencies were also the source of a tip that led the Turkish military to intercept and ground a Syrian passenger plane en route from Moscow to Damascus last week on suspicions that it was carrying Russian-made military hardware, according to U.S. officials.
Cross-border shelling has continued as the Syrian military has attacked rebel groups along the frontier, sometimes landing in Turkish territory. Turkey has retaliated with artillery strikes, most recently on Friday, while warning Damascus that the risk of all-out war is increasing. The U.S. and NATO have publicly supported Turkey, saying it has a right to act in self-defense. At the same time, they have called for restraint and repeated that neither Washington nor Brussels has any intention of getting involved militarily.
But behind the scenes, the border clashes have changed the strategic calculus and led U.S. military and intelligence officials in particular to collaborate more closely with Turkey.
The Obama administration has said it would likely intervene directly only if Syria’s government engaged in chemical or biological warfare.